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Mariners enter spring with core intact

MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- More than 60 players will converge on the Mariners' Spring Training complex in Peoria, Ariz., in the coming days with hopes and dreams of landing a spot on Seattle's Major League roster.

But only 25 will make the Opening Day club that kicks off the season March 29 at Safeco Field against the Indians, and we'll take a shot at predicting who'll be in that final group.

SEATTLE -- More than 60 players will converge on the Mariners' Spring Training complex in Peoria, Ariz., in the coming days with hopes and dreams of landing a spot on Seattle's Major League roster.

But only 25 will make the Opening Day club that kicks off the season March 29 at Safeco Field against the Indians, and we'll take a shot at predicting who'll be in that final group.

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The Mariners are pretty set at most positions, but do have some intriguing battles lining up for backup roles. With the obvious caveat that injuries can change things in a hurry, here's a pre-camp projection of the 25-man roster that will emerge over the next seven weeks.

Catcher (2): Mike Zunino and Mike Marjama

Zunino is now entrenched as the starter as he comes off a strong second half in 2017, but backup catcher figures to be one of the more interesting competitions as Marjama and David Freitas battle to replace last year's No. 2, veteran Carlos Ruiz.

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto chose to go with two 28-year-old rookies rather than bring in a backstop with more MLB experience, and Marjama gets the early nod here simply because he was with the team last September after being acquired from the Rays by trade in August. But Freitas got a similar limited September splash with the Braves before being claimed off waivers in October, and is regarded as a solid defender, so he certainly could win the job with a strong camp.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

First base (1): Ryon Healy

Healy will handle the everyday duties after being acquired from the A's this winter. The only question would be whether Seattle retains Rule 5 Draft pick Mike Ford in a backup role, but that seems unlikely as the Mariners would prefer to avoid a platoon and use the extra roster spot for an extra reliever.

Second base (1): Robinson Cano

This one isn't in doubt. Cano has six years and $144 million remaining on his contract and continues ranking among the best hitters at his position in the Majors. As long as his legs are healthy, he'll stay at second base.

Shortstop (1): Jean Segura

At 27, Segura is just hitting his prime and the Mariners liked what they saw so much last season that they signed him to a five-year, $70 million contract extension.

Third base (1): Kyle Seager

Seager has played more games at the hot corner than anybody in the Majors over the past six seasons. There is no reason to think that will change this year.

Utility (1): Andrew Romine

Taylor Motter handled this role last season and certainly has the versatility to win the job again, but he slumped badly at the plate after a quick start -- finishing at .198 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 258 at-bats -- and Dipoto claimed Romine off waivers from the Tigers in November to provide a veteran option.

Romine isn't a big bopper either -- a career .233 hitter with a 66 OPS+ -- but he's played every position on the field and is a well-regarded clubhouse presence as well. The Mariners gave him a $1.05 million contract to ensure his spot on the 40-man roster, while Motter has Minor League options if needed.

Outfield (4): Mitch Haniger, Dee Gordon, Ben Gamel, Cameron Perkins

Video: Johns on Gordon transitioning to center field

The first three are locks, while Guillermo Heredia figures to be the fourth outfielder as soon as he gets healthy. But Heredia is recovering from September shoulder surgery and likely won't be ready by Opening Day, which opens a spot for someone to grab with a big spring.

Perkins is the only other outfielder on the 40-man after being claimed from the Phillies, but several non-roster invitees -- including veteran Kirk Nieuwenhuis and young prospects Braden Bishop and Ian Miller -- will get a good look in spring as well.

Video: Haniger, Gamel, Heredia among Mariners' outfielders

Designated hitter (1): Nelson Cruz

The big man leads the Majors in homers over the past four years and has shown no signs of letting up at age 37.

Starting pitchers (5): James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Mike Leake, Erasmo Ramirez, Marco Gonzales

The first four are locks if things go to plan. Gonzales, acquired from the Cardinals last July for outfield prospect Tyler O'Neill, will be given every opportunity to claim the last spot since he and Ramirez are out of Minor League options. But either could be moved to the bullpen if needed, with Ariel Miranda, Andrew Moore, Max Povse, Rob Whalen, Chase De Jong and Sam Moll as the other rotation contenders on the 40-man.

Video: Dipoto discusses the Mariners' starting rotation

Bullpen (8): Edwin Diaz, Juan Nicasio, Nick Vincent, David Phelps, Marc Rzepczynski, James Pazos, Dan Altavilla, Shawn Armstrong

This is the hardest position to predict, particularly after the first six, given the depth of quality contenders. Nick Rumbelow, acquired from the Yankees, could well crack this group. Tony Zych is another strong contender, assuming he's back to full health. But Armstrong -- acquired from the Indians -- is out of Minor League options and thus could land the last spot with a solid spring, while Altavilla is another versatile young power arm with good upside.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

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